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Drama Contemporary

“God dammit ,James This is bullshit.” The tall older, once skinny man looked down to his protege, “I wouldn’t feed this to my dog.” The man said. He was wearing a tall, white hat and was looking down at the much shorter man, called James. The man in the hat then simply pushed the plate from the pass on to the floor. The plate crashed onto the tile floor breaking into several pieces. 

“Porter!” James yelled at the top of his lungs before acknowledging his chef, which he instantly knew was a mistake and regretted it. He closed his eyes and mentally prepared for what would come next. 

“God dammit, James. The porter has ears, he knows the fucking plate broke.” The chef was still whispering in James’ ear. He was right up to the younger man’s ear. James could feel the chef’s hot breath on his lobe. 

James just stood there, blankly looking past the head chef “yes, Chef.” 

The chef glared at James “don’t just fucking tell me ‘yes chef.’ You’re not some trained ape, are you? These people are waiting for their food, and it’s all over my fucking kitchen floor.” 

James breathed in deeply and looked back from the pass to his cooks on the line. “Chef’s, we need one more vegan orecchiette on the fly. This time, make sure it looks presentable and, for fuck’s sake, don’t flood the plate with broccoli rabe. It looked like the damn Garden of Eden.” 

The chef sneered at James “are you forgetting something?” 

    “Yes, chef.” was all James could say before he turned back around to the rest of the order in front of him. Grabbing up his long, thin tweezers and, with them sorting through a shallow quarter pan of microgreens. Grabbing one by one, he made sure to use an assortment of colors and sizes across the three scallops in a long shallow oval shaped bowl. Three rows of greens placed diagonally across the scallops, just so. The greens gave color to the otherwise pretty brown plate of seared scallops and lentils underneath. The plate didn't really need them, and a lower-end restaurant  might not have them, but visuals mattered in the big leagues, and the bland tan look the plate had without them just wouldn’t do. 

“What makes you think I won't break you?” chef moved so he was fully behind James now putting his hands on James' shoulders. He rubbed them, almost menacingly for a moment before he let go. “Don’t let me see that kind of shit again.” Then the chef walked off.

James pushed from his mind the hangover he still had from the night before, or the fact that his wife had left him just a few days prior with their newborn baby. She had said she was going to stay with her mother until he could get his priorities straight. According to her, he worked too much, too hard, and had barely been able to spend any time with the baby. He had even missed the birth which looking back, was the straw that broke the camel’s back to Sarah. He had to push it all from his mind and not let that distract him right now. He had worked his entire life and destroyed his life for the chance to become Sous Chef at this very restaurant. Once upon a time, it was his dream to work this pass with the great Chef Theodore Bernard instructing him. 

He had to push away the feelings of just curling away into a ball with a bottle of one of his friends, John, Jim, or Jose and dwell on the fact the only person who ever loved him, had left him, even after they promised they never would in front of their close friends and family before exchanging rings. Some of the other guys on the line even tempted him with harder things, either in the form of white powder or little crystal rocks they would smoke. He couldn’t go down that road, not again. 

When the chef walked away from him, a man walked up wearing loose-fitting, black pants and a plain, white button up shirt. This man was the porter, and you could tell he was waiting for the Chef to leave before he came and cleaned up the mess with his small broom and dust bin. Carlos was a master at his job, one of the best head porters in the city. He made sure this kitchen was immaculate day in and day out, without fail. 

“God dammit, Leon, get that fucking orecchiette up here or we’re going to have to refire the scallops as well!” James yelled back to his line once more. He heard a groan from the fish station in response, “you stow that shit, Frank. If you don’t want to re-cook, light a fire under the pasta station.” 

“Coming now, chef!” He heard as a skinny man with long, blond hair came rushing to the pass from his station, bowl in hand. Leon was one of the guys who now tried to get James to smoke meth with him to help get rid of his worries, and Leon looked every bit of a meth head. Leon was also a monster in the kitchen though, having the most prep work of anyone in the kitchen, but he was able to knock it out quickly before service every night. This earned him a position on the line and it also had earned him a pass if the cops ever showed up looking for him. More than once, James or even Chef Theodore had covered for him. 

Leon set the bowl in front of James and then quickly ran back off to his station. Everyone on the hotline was dressed the same, including James. They all wore loose-fitting, black pants and a white chef’s coat with the sleeves rolled up. For hats, they either wore plain black baseball caps or pure white skull caps. Leon chose the white skull cap with his hair tied back and up in a top knot to keep it under the cap. James selected the ball cap. The only one who wore the chef’s hat was Chef Theodore. It was an ego thing for him and a call back to the classic French brigade system in the kitchen. The boss wore the tallest hat, and he wanted to make sure the rest of his brigade had no doubts who was in charge of this kitchen. 

James dressed the plate with the appropriate garnish quickly with the long tweezers. It didn’t need much, it was a rather colorful plate on its own, as long as there wasn’t too much broccoli rabe. It had the perfect blend of colors with the red from the sun dried tomatoes and the green from the boccoli. James finished the two dishes by running a small cloth dipped in some acidic water along the rims of the dishes and in any spots that might have a bit of grease on it. 

He looked at the ticket he was finishing on a rail in front of him, then to the clock. “Service!” he yelled then hit a bell. This signaled a runner to come to the pass and grab the plate and take them to the appropriate table. The runner came and ran off with the plates. The front of the house was dressed similarly to the back, just instead of chef’s coats they wore dressy, white-button up and a black,silk vest.

The pass was open, just a basic granite countertop with some hot lamps that pulled down from the ceiling. It was littered in organized chaos, according to James’ preferences for how he wanted his mise en place in order to quickly and efficiently expedite and garnish the dishes, before sending them out to the waiting diners. Behind him was the line in a sort of square formation. The cooking appliances in the middle, stoves or grill or whatever else and then the line chefs working them. Then behind them were their own stations, all organized to their own preferences so they could push out the required dishes. 

“Do you have a hot date?!” James heard from behind him. It was Chef again. He was stalking around the hotline eyeing the line chefs and making sure everything was going smoothly. This is what he normally did during busy services. Creeping around the kitchen like a tiger, looking for the scared lonely gazelle, waiting to pounce on his prey and attack. 

James would ignore him, if he could. He didn’t have time for this. He needed to communicate more orders with his line. “No Chef!” Truth be told, he kind of did have a hot date. When Sarah left, she gave him an ultimatum. If he called her at her mothers by midnight on Friday, she figured it would mean James did actually care about her and their baby, Sophie. Jessica knew there was no hope of James getting any time to himself before midnight on the busiest of nights at restaurants. 

Chef Theordore seemed happy with his response for the time being and didn’t say another word. Instead, he went back to stalking the kitchen, even heading into the dish pit to see if he could find a victim there. It only took a few moments until he heard yelling and dishes crashing onto the ground. James sighed. 

“Order in,” a young petite woman in the front of the house outfit walked up to the pass and handed James the carbon copy of an order for her newest table. She was cute, brunette and in another life, James could see himself trying for at least a hook up after a massive session of blow after a brutal service like the one they were currently in. 

James took the ticket and looked it over,  groaning slightly. It was a larger table, seven people. They were used to date nights of two tops, and maybe four tops of some double daters. He then turned back to his line and yelled over the commotion of the kitchen. It was also fish heavy which means it might take a little longer to get the order out. 

 “On order, seven top; first course one escargot…” and he trailed off, not really even paying attention to what he said. It was all systematic at this point, he almost never actually did during this part of the order. With everything going on and the deadline fast approaching to call his wife, he could fake it. He then ended the yelling “... How long?” 

The stations responsible for the dishes called out their times, including fish, though the last seemed hesitant about giving his time. James knew the fish station was already starting to get in the weeds, and this wouldn’t help matters. Chef Theodore found his opportunity to attack at that moment. Not the fish station like James would have expected, but himself. The chef walked back up to the pass, with a sneer, once more whispering in James’s ear. 

“Do you really think that moron is going to get out all of his orders in the time he gave?” James once again felt that hot breath on his ear lobe. “This kitchen is falling apart and it’s all your fucking fault, Sous Chef Nobody. It’s not your name on the fucking door, it’s mine, and you’re making me look like a fucking asshole,” the chef whispered to him. 

“God fucking DAMMIT!” James yelled at the top of his lungs, and time stood still. The line chefs, even the wait staff, all stopped in their tracks and looked to the pass. James looked at his Chef, stared right into his eyes. The chef even looked a little taken back at James’ outburst. 

James looked back at the clock on the wall for a minute, it was just past eleven. He was over this. As much as he worked for this his entire life, his baby and wife meant more to him. They were his world now, not this ego fueled bullshit. “It’s your name on the fucking door, you do this bullshit. I’m fucking OUT.” James grabbed his knife roll and threw the knives and utensils that were his in it, and rolled it up, fastening the clips. Heading for the rear entrance of the kitchen into the back alley, he paused and looked at Chef Theodore, who glared back at him. 

“The fuck are you waiting for? Get the fuck out,” Chef didn’t yell in return to James. He never yelled at James, his protege. He chose to break him down mentally. James just smiled, looking coldly in the head chef’s eyes. He was standing at the saucier station, the station responsible for all the sauces, gravies, and anything else. He was James’ right hand man in the kitchen, but it didn’t matter. He was done with these people. James reached down and grabbed two boxes of kosher salt, opening them and dumping them in a couple large pots of stock that were simmering on the stove. James then simply smiled at the Chef and waved over his shoulder as he left.

It was all a blur to him, he was shaking with nerves standing out in the cool night air, he slung the strap to his knife roll over his shoulder. He could hear the screaming from the chef now inside the kitchen, but he didn’t care. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. It was an old cheap flip phone, one that never broke, even through the hard work in the kitchen. He dialed the number quickly, knowing it by heart. Once the phone was answered, he didn’t wait for the person to say anything. 

“You’re my world. I don’t give a shit about this anymore. I’m on my way to get you. We’re going home.” James knew this was going to be the result the moment he stepped into the kitchen tonight, he didn’t know why he waited so long to actually make the call. Some sense of duty perhaps.

  • end

November 18, 2022 19:59

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1 comment

TJ Felegie
23:53 Nov 23, 2022

Overall, I liked the story, I think it had a nice ending. It didn't feel very obvious, which I liked, I wasn't sure if he would miss the deadline and keep working, resigning his life to this, or quit and make the call. I also liked the descriptions of the plates, I could see the detail, and could really get a sense of seeing them through James' eyes. Some of the language might flow a bit better if there weren't as many repetitions between concurrent sentences. (ex. "The chef was still whispering in James’ ear. He was right up to the younger...

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